Facing Up to Violence Against Women

Masimba Biriwasha

In many parts of the world, violence against women is a mirror of the structural and traditional inequalities between men and women. Due to women's subordinate status in society, they are treated as property by their male counterparts.

In recent years violence against women has received increased attention worldwide, but there's need to move beyond the clutches of rhetoric to action in order to stem this social scourge.

There's need to recognize the varied forms of violence against women and to put the issue on the agenda so that it is addressed as a matter of public health priority.

Governments around the world need to act decisively through the allocation, implementation of better programs and other creative initiatives to fight the scourge of violence against women.

Violence against women and girls devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development yet it remains one of the most pervasive problems worldwide.

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According to Sujata Warrier, director of the New York City Program, New York State Office for the Prevention of Violence, quoted in the Sacramento State Hornet, violence against women is a worldwide occurrence, the cause and effects of which have been subtly incorporated into the infrastructure of society over time.

"Women experience violence on a daily basis," she said. "You have to understand how violence is used to control women."

In many parts of the world, violence against women is a mirror of the structural and traditional inequalities between men and women. Due to women's subordinate status in society, they are treated as property by their male counterparts, and they suffer immensely as a result. Whether it is during times of war or peace, women's bodies are ravaged by men.

"The woman's body has become a battleground and it seems to be taken for granted that this should continue," said Rachel Mayanja, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.

Unfortunately, in many countries, women lack access to services that can help them to cope with the damaging effects of violence. According to UNIFEM, violence against women is a major cause of death and disability for women 16 to 44 years of age.

"It is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined," says UNIFEM.

Victims of sexual violence face a myriad of problems, including medical and psychological problems, infertility, unwanted pregnancies, STIs and HIV and possible rejection in their own communities.

Furthermore, violence against women also comes with an economic cost, which may imperil families, communities and also hamper progress within the community. When women in a given community suffer violence, this can have a serious negative impact on the short-term and long-term impact on overall development of the community.

"A 2003 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion," says UNIFEM.

Amnesty International says the torture of women was reported in every armed conflict it investigated between 1999 and 2000, most often in the form of sexual violence.

Rape, when used as a weapon of war, is systematically employed for a variety of purposes, including intimidation, humiliation, political terror, extracting information, rewarding soldiers, and "ethnic cleansing," says Amnesty International. "Violence against women in armed conflict situations is largely based on traditional views of women as property, and often as sexual objects."

There's clearly need for political willingness, commitment of national budgets and openness about the problems of violence against women. Women must be empowered to articulate their priorities and demand action from their leaders.

Both male and female role models that speak out against violence are needed to help society, especially young people, face up to violence against women and make it a thing of the past.

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